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Title: The impact of Neolithic agriculture on the environments of south-east Europe
Author: Gardner, A. R.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 1999
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Recent palaeoecological research has demonstrated that the earliest discernible environmental impacts arising from Neolithic agriculture in south-east Europe occur several millenia after the earliest archaeological evidence for farming. Published archaeological records of domesticated animal and plant remains and Neolithic material culture suggest that the first agriculture in Europe occurred in the south-east of the continent from about 9 ka BP. In contrast, large-scale landscape clearance is not evident in palaeoecological records from south-east Europe until at least 6ka BP. A number of factors have been promoted to account for this discrepancy but the underlying source of temporal bias is suggested to have occurred through the selection of inappropriate palaeoecological methods. Basin size, proximity of palaeoecology sequences to archaeological sites and sampling resolution are identified as critical factors in the interpretation of Neolithic environmental impacts. This thesis presents multi-proxy palaeoecological data from six sedimentary sequences in Hungary, Slovenia and Greece using a modified approach designed to counter previous criticisms of unsuitable palaeoecological sampling strategies and to examine the nature of the impact of Neolithic farmers upon the south-east European landscape. Three pairs of palaeoecological sites were selected for analysis, each pair comprising an onsite sequence no more than 200m from the archaeological settlement, and an off-site sequence from approximately 10km distant. All sequences received a predominantly local pollen flux and were assessed in the field as extending back to the late-glacial. Two of these sequences were subsequently deemed unsuitable for further analysis. The remaining four sequences were subject to pollen, charcoal, geochemical, loss-on-ignition and radiocarbon analyses. Numerical routines (principal components analysis, dissimilarity coefficients, rarefaction analysis, rate of change and age-modelling) were applied to the resulting datasets. Results from these analyses show that the environmental response to Neolithic agriculture was subtle and was characterised by a shift in forest composition rather than any large-scale landscape clearance. Progressive cycles of gap creation in mature secondary forest initiated a gradual process of degradation of the forest canopy with the dominant slow-growth forest taxon being replaced by advantageous faster growing taxa. In addition, sedimentary analyses reveal that these forest compositional changes during the Neolithic did not cause any appreciable soil erosion or geomorphological instability. Rather, sediment geochemical stratigraphy during the Neolithic was dominated by site-specific processes related to authigenic productivity and deposition of organic material. Allogenic mineral influx occurred in late-glacial and in recent (post 1000 BP) sediments but not during the Neolithic, suggesting an underlying sedimentological trend of landscape stability rather than erosive influx. Results from this study imply that the selection of inappropriate palaeoecological methods for the interpretation of Neolithic impacts may contribute to some of the apparent 'invisibility' of agricultural activity in, but does not adequately explain the absence of a characteristic environmental response equivalent to that seen in northern European palaeoecological sequences for early agriculture. The magnitude of environmental impacts from Neolithic agriculture in south-east Europe appear to have been minimal, and this is principally related to the observation that contraction of woodland does not occur in south-east Europe during the Neolithic. The primary conclusion from this study is that the earliest farmers in south-east Europe were most likely to have adopted regenerative forest-use practices and naturally open spaces, rather than any large-scale clearance of forest.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available